Study examines African American youths' perceptions of community violence and their recommendations for mitigating negative impacts

October 7, 2019

Researchers at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health and University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine in partnership with community partner Youth Ambassadors recently conducted a qualitative study on community violence that examined the lived perspectives of African American youth and their recommendations for mitigating the negative impact of community violence. The authors’ findings were recently published in the  October issue of  Health Affairs, a themed issue about violence and health. Briana Woods-Jaeger, PhD, was first author on the paper.  

As a population, African American youth experience a disproportionate rate of violence, which has been linked to negative impacts on emotional, mental, and physical health. The leading cause of death for African American youth is homicide. Few studies have evaluated intervention strategies that target multilevel, cross sectoral factors after community violence exposure and rarely have African American youths’ perceptions been examined to understand what these strategies should entail.   

The researchers conducted five focus groups composed of 39 youths (average age of 16) representing income-disadvantaged neighborhoods in urban Kansas City, Missouri. The participants completed demographic questionnaires and were engaged in focus group discussions surrounding the topic of community violence. Two recurring themes that emerged from the focus group discussions were discontent with the inadequate response to community violence (by school officials, law enforcement, etc.) and racial discrimination.

Participants provided concrete, actionable steps for the community to take, which included:

  • Mitigating racism and discrimination across all sectors
  • Investing in neighborhoods and building community infrastructure
  • Increasing churches’ capacity to respond to mental health needs
  • Increasing schools’ responsiveness to bullying and violence
  • Promoting an increase in mental health resources in the community 

The study’s authors suggest that incorporating these findings into current policy and cross-sector initiatives offers a promising opportunity to improve the health and well-being of African American youth exposed to community violence. The qualitative study was phase one of a larger project that includes a community-wide survey and development of a cross-sector intervention.

Woods-Jaeger will be speaking about her research on a panel during Health Affairs Forum: Violence and Health on October 10, 2019, an event held in conjunction with the issue’s release. Engage in the conversation by following @Health_Affairs #violenceandhealth.